Curt J. Ducasse

C. J. Ducasse

(1881-1969), French-born, highly respected Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. Awardee of the Carus Lectures prize (American Philosophical Association). Contributed to the "Journal Information for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", "Causation", "Immortality" (Edited by Paul Edwards), "Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology" (edited by James M. O. Wheatley). Ex-student of Josiah Royce. Pursued a career in philosophy but retained a strong interest in logic - so much so that he took the initiative to create the Association for Symbolic Logic with its Journal of symbolic logic. Among his many important papers on survival are "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today" Journal of the ASPR 54: 3-22, and "What Would Constitute Conclusive Evidence of Survival After Death?" Journal of the SPR 41: 401-406. His books included "A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death", "Paranormal Phenomena, Science and Life After Death" (Monograph), "A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion", "Nature, Mind, And Death", "Truth, Knowledge and Causation", "Philosophy As a Science: Its Matter and Its Method" and "Philosophy of Art".

A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death - Part 5

Chapter 20: The Doctrine of Reincarnation in the History of Thought

1. W. R. Alger, on the importance of the doctrine of metempsychosis | 2. Metempsychosis in Brahmanism and Buddhism | 3. Pythagoras and Empedocles | 4. Plato | 5. Plotinus | 6. Origen | 7. The Jews, Egyptians, Celts, and Teutons | 8. Hume | 9. Kant | 10. Fichte | 11. Schopenhauer | 12. Renouvier | 13. McTaggart | 14. Ward | 15. Broad | 16. Various forms of the doctrine of reincarnation

 - Curt J. Ducasse -

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          IN SECTIONS 5 to 8 of Chapter XIV, various forms were described which a discarnate life after death, if there is such, might conceivably take. Another possible form of survival, namely life, incarnate again, of the "essential" part of a personality through rebirth in a new human or possibly animal body, was also mentioned but was not discussed there since Part IV was concerned only with the question of discarnate life after death. In the present and the subsequent chapters of Part V, we return to that very interesting conception of survival, and examine it in some detail.

The content of the belief that the individual "soul" lives in a body on earth not once only but several times has been designated by various names. Metempsychosis, Transmigration, Reincarnation, and Rebirth are the most familiar, but Reembodiment, Metensomatosis, and Palingenesis have also been used. The doctrine has taken a variety of specific forms, some of which will be considered farther on; but there is little warrant either in etymology or in any firmly established usage for regarding one or another of those names as denoting only some particular form of the doctrine that the individual "soul" lives on earth not once only but several times.(1)

(1) "Rebirth," "Reembodiment," "Reincarnation," and "Transmigration," are self-explanatory. "Metempsychosis" is from the Greek meta = after, successive, + empsychoō = to animate, from en = in + psyche = spirit, soul; "Palingenesis," from palin = again, anew, + genesis = birth, gignomai = to be born; "Metensomatosis," from meta = after, successive, + en = in, + soma = body.

The conception of survival as metempsychosis seems fantastic and unplausible to the great majority of people today in Europe and America, notwithstanding that the believers in survival among them conceive life after death in terms either more fantastic or merely nebulous. And implausibility - distinguished from grounded improbability - means little else than that the doctrine a person characterizes as implausible is one he has not been accustomed to see treated seriously.

The idea of metempsychosis has appealed to vast numbers of persons in Asia and, even in the West, has commended itself to a number of its most distinguished thinkers from ancient times to the present. In this chapter, we shall cite briefly what some of them have said on the subject. It has in most cases been phrased by them in terms of the words "soul" or "spirit," which we shall retain in presenting their views, instead of using "mind" or "personality" as in our preceding chapters.

Then, in subsequent chapters, we shall examine the objections to which the hypothesis of reincarnation appears open, and the ways, if any, in which they might be met. Finally, we shall consider the facts, such as they are, which have been alleged to constitute evidence of the reality of survival conceived as reincarnation.

1. W. R. Alger, on the importance of the doctrine of metempsychosis

The importance of the doctrine of Metempsychosis in the history of mankind may be gathered from the statement with which the Rev. W. R. Alger, a learned Unitarian clergyman of the last century, opens the discussion of the subject in his monumental work, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life. "No other doctrine," he declares, "has exerted so extensive, controlling, and permanent an influence upon mankind as that of the metempsychosis, - the notion that when the soul leaves the body it is born anew in another body, its rank, character, circumstances and experience in each successive existence depending on its qualities, deeds, and attainments in its preceding lives."(2)

(2) Op. Cit, p. 475, Tenth Edition, Boston 1880; preface dated 1878.

Alger cites authority for the fact that at the time of his writing, the adherents of the transmigration doctrine in one or another of the more specific forms under which it has been conceived numbered some six hundred and fifty million; and, in order to account for what he terms "the extent and the tenacious grasp of this antique and stupendous belief" (p. 475), he mentions, among other less potent reasons, the fact that "the theory of the transmigration of souls is marvellously adapted to explain the seeming chaos of moral inequality, injustice, and manifold evil presented in the world of human life ... Once admit the theory to be true, and all difficulties in regard to moral justice vanish" (p. 481). Moreover, he writes, "the motive furnished by the doctrine to self-denial and toil has a peerless sublimity" (p. 487).

Alger's book was published in 1860 and ran through ten editions in the course of the succeeding twenty years. In the early editions, notwithstanding the high merits he granted to the reincarnation theory, he apparently rejected it, on the ground that, "destitute of any substantial evidence, it is unable to face the severity of science" (p. 484). But in the fifth of six new chapters which in 1878 he adds in the tenth edition, he considers again the merits of the theory and offers it - though, he emphasizes, in no dogmatic spirit (p. 739) - as probably "the true meaning of the dogma of the resurrection" (p. 735); "the true meaning of the doctrine of the general resurrection and judgment and eternal life, as a natural evolution of history from within" (Preface, p. iv); pointing out (p. 735) that "resurrection and transmigration agree in the central point of a restoration of the disembodied soul to a new bodily existence, only the former represents this as a single collective miracle wrought by an arbitrary stroke of God at the close of the earthly drama, (whereas) the latter depicts it as constantly taking place in the regular fulfilment of the divine plan in the creation." The difference, he goes on, "is certainly, to a scientific and philosophical thinker ... strongly in favor of the Oriental theory" (p. 735). For, he somewhat rhapsodically declares, "the thoughts embodied in it are so wonderful, the method of it so rational, the region of contemplation into which it lifts the mind is so grand, the prospects it opens are of such universal reach and import, that the study of it brings us into full sympathy with the sublime scope of the idea of immortality and of a cosmopolitan vindication of providence uncovered to everyone" (p. 739).

One virtue of the reincarnation hypothesis which Alger does not actually mention concerns the "origin" of the individual human soul if the latter is conceived, as generally by the religious, in spiritual not materialistic terms. For reincarnation provides an alternative to the shocking supposition common among Christians that, at the mating of any human pair, be it in wedlock or in wanton debauch, an all-wise, almighty, and infinitely loving God creates outright from nothing, or extracts from his own eternal being, an immortal human soul endowed arbitrarily with a particular one out of many possible sets of latent capacities and incapacities. In contrast with this the reincarnation theory says nothing about absolute origins, for it finds no more difficulty in thinking of the "soul" as unoriginated than in thinking of it as unending; that is, in conceiving it as evolving from more primitive to more advanced stages, and as extending thus from an infinite past into an infinite future. For if it is conceivable that anything at all should have no absolute beginning, then it is conceivable of a human spirit as easily as of a divine one.

2. Metempsychosis in Brahmanism and Buddhism

The transmigration theory, then, presents to us the idea of a long succession of lives on earth for the individual, each of them as it were a day in the school of experience, teaching him new lessons through which he develops the capacities latent in human nature, grows in wisdom, and eventually reaches spiritual maturity.

This idea has for many centuries been widely accepted in Asia. In Brahmanism, the belief is held that the individual ego or spirit, the Atma, has lived in a body on earth many times before the birth of its present body, and will do so again and again after the death of that body; the bodies in which it incarnates being human, or animal, or even vegetable ones according to its Karma, that is, according to the destiny it generates for itself by its acts, its thoughts, and its attitudes and aspirations; this evolutionary process continuing until the individual Atma, at last fully developed, attains direct insight into its identity with Brahman, the World Spirit, and thereby wins salvation from the necessity of further rebirth.

In Buddhism, which, like Protestantism in Christianity, was a reform movement, the belief in reincarnation and Karma carried over but with a difference which at first seems paradoxical. For one of the chief teachings of the Buddha is the Anatta doctrine - the doctrine namely, that man has no permanent Atma or ego, but that the constituents of his nature are always in process of change, more or less rapidly; and that his present being is related to the past beings he calls his, only in being continuous with them as effect is continuous with cause. In Buddhism, the culmination of the long chain of lives, each generating the next, is therefore not described as realization of the identity of Atma and Brahma, but as extinction of the three "fires" - that is, of craving, ill-will, and ignorance - which, as long as they persist, bring about re-birth. Their extinction is the extinction which the word Nirvana signifies.

3. Pythagoras and Empedocles

But the idea of preexistence, and of repeated incarnations through which the individual progresses has commended itself not only to the minds of men in Asia, but also to numerous eminent thinkers in the West, both ancient and modern.

One of the earliest was Pythagoras, who flourished about 455 B.C. and is believed to have travelled extensively in the East, perhaps as far as India. Little is known with certainty concerning his views, but Ueberweg, in the first volume of his History of Philosophy, states that "all that can be traced with certainty to Pythagoras himself is the doctrine of metempsychosis and the institution of certain religious and ethical regulations." The exact nature of his conception of metempsychosis is not known, but an anecdote reported by Diogenes Laertius - according to which Pythagoras allegedly recognized the soul of a deceased friend of his in the body of a dog that was being beaten - suggests that Pythagoras believed that the human soul was reborn at least sometimes in the bodies of animals. Another Greek philosopher of about the same period, namely, Empedocles, also held to some form of the doctrine of the transmigration of souls(3).

(3) Ueberweg, op. cit. English Trans. 1, pp. 42-63. Scribner's, N.Y., 1898.

4. Plato

But the greatest of the Greek philosophers who taught the doctrine of periodical reincarnation of souls is of course Plato. In the Phaedrus, he writes that the human soul, according to the degree of vision of truth to which it has attained. is reborn in a correspondingly suitable body: "The soul which has seen most of truth shall come to the birth as a philosopher or artist, or musician or lover; that which has seen truth in the second degree shall be a righteous king or warrior or lord; the soul which is of the third class shall be a politician or economist or trader; the fourth shall be a lover of gymnastic toils or a physician ..." and so on, down to the ninth degree, to which birth as a tyrant is appropriate - Plato adding that "all these are states of probation, in which he who lives righteously improves, and he who lives unrighteously deteriorates his lot." In another passage Plato says that the soul of a man "may pass into the life of a beast, or from the beast again into the man," but that a soul which has never beheld true being will not pass into the human form, since that vision "was the condition of her passing into the human form."(4) In the tenth book of another of the dialogues, The Republic, Plato, sets forth similar ideas. He tells of a mythical warrior, called Er, who had been left for dead on the field of battle but who returned to life ten days afterwards and related that he had seen the souls of men awaiting rebirth, beholding a great variety of available lives open to them, and drawing lots as to who would choose first, who next, and so on. Some chose, according to such folly or wisdom as they had, one or another sort of human life; but here too Plato holds to the possibility of rebirth of a man in animal form, saying that Er saw the soul of Orpheus choose the life of a swan, that of Ajax the life of a lion, that of Agamemnon that of an eagle, and so on.(5)

(4) Phaedrus, Jowett's translation, pp. 248-249, Scribner's, N.Y., 1908.
(5) The Republic, Jowett's translation, pp. 614, 617-20.

5. Plotinus

The next of the great thinkers whose views on reincarnation may be mentioned is the Neo-Platonist, Plotinus, (204-269 A.D.) who was educated in Alexandria under Ammonius Saccas and taught at Rome for some twenty-five years during the middle of the third century, A.D.; and whose philosophical ideas influenced many of the early shapers of Christian theology. In his treatise on The Descent of the Soul, he sets forth a view of the education of the soul through repeated births in a material body. The soul, he writes, "confers something of itself on a sensible nature, from which likewise it receives something in return ... By a "sensible" nature, Plotinus means here a nature perceptible to the senses, that is, a body. He goes on to say that the soul ... through an abundance of sensible desire ... becomes profoundly merged into matter and no longer totally abides in the universal soul. Yet our souls are able alternately to rise from hence carrying back with them an experience of what they have known and suffered in their fallen state; from whence they will learn how blessed it is to abide in the intelligible world," that is, in the world of abstract forms, which cannot be perceived by the senses but only apprehended by the intellect, and which are the objects of what Plato called the vision of truth, or of true being. Plotinus goes on to say that the soul, "by a comparison, as it were of contraries, will more plainly perceive the excellence of a superior state. For the experience of evil produces a clearer knowledge of good, especially where the power of judgment is so imbecil, that it cannot without such experience obtain the science of that which is best."(6)

(6) Five Books of Plotinus, translated by Thos. Taylor, London, 1794, pp. 279-80.

6. Origen

Among Christian thinkers of approximately the same period as Plotinus, who like him believed in repeated earth lives for the soul, was Origen (c. 185-c. 254, A.D.) one of the Fathers of the Church most influential in the early developments of Christian theology. He held not only, like some of the other theologians of that period, that the human soul preexisted and in some sense lived prior to its entrance into the body, but also that after death it eventually reentered a new body, and this repeatedly until, fully purified, it was fit to enter heaven. This doctrine was later condemned by the second Council of Constantinople, but the following passage, from the Latin translation by Rufinus of Origen's Greek text, of which only a fragment of the original passage remains, leaves no doubt that Origen professed it: "Everyone, therefore, of those who descend to the earth is, according to his deserts or to the position that he had there, ordained to be born in this world either in a different place, or in a different nation, or in a different occupation, or with different infirmities, or to be descended from religious or at least less pious parents; so as sometimes to bring about that an Israelite descends among the Scythians, and a poor Egyptian is brought down to Judaea."(7)

(7) Origen: De Principiis IV Cap. 3, 10, 26, 23. The Latin of Rufinus' translation is given as follows on p. 338 of Vol. 5 of Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der Ersten Drei Jahrhunderte: Unusquisque ergo descendentium in terram pro meritis vel loco suo, quem ibi habuerat, dispensatur in hoc mundo in diversis veI locis vel gentibus vel conversationibus vel infirmitatibus nasci vel a religiosis ant certe minus piis parentibus generari, ita ut inveniat aliquando Israheliten in Scythas descendere et Aegyptium pauperem deduci ad Iudaeam.

The fragment, which is all we have of Origen's own Greek of the passage, reads: kai para toisde ē toisde tois patrasin ōs dynasthai pote Israēlitēn pasein eis Schythas kai Aigypton eis tēn Ioudaian katelthein.

7. The Jews, Egyptians, Celts, and Teutons

Having alluded in what precedes to the influence of Neo-Platonism and in particular of Plotinus on the early Christian theologians, it may not be amiss to mention briefly two or three statements in the new Testament, which have often been cited as indicating that belief in preexistence and rebirth was not uncommon among the persons to whom Jesus spoke, and indeed as suggesting that perhaps he himself accepted it or at least regarded it as plausible.

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, we have the story of the man born blind, whom Jesus saw as he passed by. "His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered. "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him." The point is that the answer of Jesus does not deny that the man could have sinned before birth, but denies only that this actually was the cause of his blindness. More explicit and positive is the assertion by Jesus, twice reported in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, that John the Baptist was Elijah: "And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear." And farther on: "But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased... Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist" (XVII, 12, 13).

At all events, the doctrine of the transmigration of souls was a part of the Jewish esoteric mystical philosophy known as the Kabbala, the origin of which is very ancient, apparently antedating even the Christian era. The doctrine is mentioned in the later Zoharistic works, but "is never found systematically developed" there; rather, wherever it occurs, it is tacitly assumed as well known, and no explanation is given in detail(8). The following passage is quoted from the Zohar (ii, 99b) by C. D. Ginsburg: "All souls are subject to transmigration, and men do not know the ways of the Holy One, blessed be he; they do not know that they are brought before the tribunal, both before they enter into this world and after they quit it, they are ignorant of the many transmigrations and secret probations which they have to undergo ... But the time is at hand when these mysteries will be disclosed."(9) The same author, in a footnote (p. 125) writes: "According to Josephus, the doctrine of the transmigration of souls into other bodies ... was also held by the Pharisees ... restricting, however, the metempsychosis to the righteous. And though the Midrashin and the Talmud are silent about it, yet from Saadia's vituperation against it ... there is no doubt that this doctrine was held among some Jews in the ninth century of the present era. At all events it is perfectly certain that the Karaite Jews firmly believed in it ever since the seventh century ... St. Jerome assures us that it was also propounded among the early Christians as an esoteric and traditional doctrine which was entrusted to the select few; ... and Origen was convinced that it was only by means of this doctrine that certain Scriptural narratives, such as the struggle of Jacob with Esau before their birth, the reference to Jeremiah when still in his mother's womb, and many others, can possibly be explained.'

(8) M. Caster: Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Art. Transmigration, p. 439. Cf. G. SchoIem: Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. Schoken Pub. House, Jerusalem, 1947 pp. 281 ff.
(9) The Essenes, The Kabbalah, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1955, pp. 124-5.

In the ancient world, the belief in reincarnation was anyway widespread. Herodotus, Plato, and other Greek writers report it of the Egyptians of their time; Herodotus, for example, writing (Bk. II, Sec. 123): "... the Egyptians were the first to teach that the human soul is immortal, and at the death of the body enters into some other living thing then coming to birth; and after passing through all creatures, of land, sea, and air (which cycle it completes in three thousand years) it enters once more into a human body at birth. Some of the Greeks, early and late, have used this doctrine as if it were their own..."(10)

(10) Bk. III. Sec. 123. Tr. by. A. D. Godley, Putnam's N. Y. 1921.

Both Caesar and Valerius Maximus definitely state that the Druids of ancient Gaul held the belief in reincarnation; and there is evidence also that it was present among the early Teutonic peoples.

8. Hume

Let us' however, now turn to more recent times and see what some eminent modern philosophers have had to say concerning metempsychosis. The first I shall mention is one of the greatest in the history of modem thought-the skeptical philosopher, David Hume. In one of his essays, he emphasizes on the one hand the weakness of the metaphysical and of the moral arguments for the immortality of the soul, and on the other, the strength of the physical arguments for its mortality; and he then concludes the passage with the statement that "the Metempsychosis is therefore the only system of this kind [that is, the only conception of immortality] that philosophy can hearken to."(11)

(11) Essays and Treatises on Various Subjects, Boston, 1881. Second of the two, Essays on Suicide, p. 228. p. 162.

9. Kant

Another and no less famous philosopher, who also gave some thought to the idea of preexistence and of rebirth, was Immanuel Kant. In a passage of his celebrated Critique of Pure Reason, he notes that "generation in the human race depends on ... many accidents, on occasion, ... on the views and whims of government, nay, even on vice;" and he remarks that 'It is difficult to believe in the eternal existence of a being whose life has first begun under circumstances so trivial, and so entirely dependent on our own choice." Kant then points out that the strangeness, which attaches to the supposition that so important an effect arises from such insignificant causes, would disappear if we should accept the hypothesis that the life of the human spirit is "not subject to the changes of time ... neither beginning in birth, nor ending in death," and that the life of the body, which so begins and so ends, "is phenomenal only;" that is to say, if we should accept the hypothesis that "if we could see ourselves and other objects as they really are, we should see ourselves in a world of spiritual natures, our community with which did neither begin at our birth nor will end with the death of the body."(12) Indeed, a more recent philosopher, James Ward, who in his Gifford Lectures calls attention to this passage, states in a note that Kant, in his lectures on metaphysics shortly before the publication of the Critique, dogmatically taught both the preexistence and the immortality of the soul.(13)

(12) Critique of Pure Reason, M. Mueller's Trawl. MacMillan's 2nd ed. pp. 625-6.
(13) James Ward, The Realm of Ends, p. 404.

10. Fichte

Another German philosopher, Fichte, contrasts the spiritual part of himself, which he conceives as the will to obey the laws of reason, with the sensuous other part, and conjectures that the latter may have the form of a succession of incarnate lives. He writes: "These two orders, - the purely spiritual and the sensuous, the latter consisting possibly of an innumerable series of particular lives, - have existed in me from the first moment of the development of my active reason ... My sensuous existence may, in future, assume other forms, but these are just as little the true life, as its present form."(14)

(14) The Vocation of Man, Bk. III, Trawl. by Wm. Smith, Pub. London 1848.

11. Schopenhauer

Another German philosopher, Schopenhauer, had some acquaintance with the thought of India, and a good deal of sympathy with certain of its features-in particular with its doctrine of repeated births. In the third volume of his great work, The World as Will and Idea, he has a chapter on "Death and its relation to the indestructibility of our true nature." This true nature he conceives to be not the intellect, which is mortal, but "the character, i.e., the will" which is "the eternal part" of us and comes again and again to new births. This doctrine, he goes on, is "more correctly denoted by the word palingenesis [that is, new births] than by metempsychosis- since the latter term suggests that what is reborn is the whole psyche, whereas not the intellectual part of it, but only the will, is born again.(15)

(15) Vol. 111:300, Haldane and Kemp's translation. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner Co. London, 1906.

12. Renouvier

One of the most distinguished French philosophers of recent times, Charles Renouvier, also endorses the doctrine of reincarnation. In the course of the exposition of his elaborate theory of monads, of indestructible germs, and of the origin and destiny of personality, he writes: "But it is not once only that each person must live again on earth owing to the actualization of one of those seminal potencies; it is a certain number of times, we do not know how many ..." And again, speaking of the several individuals which are the several lives of one person, he writes: "These individuals, whom memory does not tie together, and who have to one another no earthly genealogical relationships, also have no memory of the person whom each of them comes to continue on earth. Such forgetting is a condition of any theory of preexistence ... the person, reintegrated in the world of ends, recovers there the memory of its state in the world of origins, and of the diverse lives which it has gone through, in the course of which it has received the lessons and undergone the trials of the life of pain."(16)

(16) Le Personnalisme, pp. 125-126. Felix Alcan, Paris 1903.

13. McTaggart

To be mentioned next in our partial list of recent and contemporary eminent thinkers who have regarded with favor the theory of metempsychosis are three distinguished British philosophers. The first is John McTaggart, who in 1906 published a book entitled Some Dogmas of Religion. The whole of its fourth chapter is devoted to a discussion of the idea of human preexistence. He states that this "renders the doctrine of a plurality of lives more probable." This doctrine "would, indeed, be in any case the most probable form of the doctrine of immortality" (p xiii). Farther on, McTaggart points out that if both preexistence and immortality are true, then "each man would have at least three lives, his present life, one before it, and one after it. It seems more probable, however, that this would not be all, and that his existence before and after his present life would in each case be divided into many lives, each bounded by birth and death." And he adds that there is much to be said for the view that [such] a plurality of lives would be the most probable alternative, even on a theory of immortality which did not include preexistence (p. 116).(17)

(17) Op. Cit. London. Edw. Arnold, 1906.

14. Ward

James Ward, cited above as having called attention to what Kant had to say on the subject of the human spirit's existence before the birth and after the death of its body, himself considers various theories of a future life in the 18th of his Gifford lectures. One of these theories is that of metempsychosis. He examines some of the chief objections to it which have been advanced, and he suggests more or less plausible ways in which they may be met. He concludes that "we must at least insist ... that if such life [to wit, a future life] is to have any worth or meaning, a certain personal continuity of development is essential. From this point of view, death becomes indeed a longer sleep dividing life from life as sleep divides day from day; and as there is progress from day to day so too there may be from life to life."(18)

(18) The Realm of Ends, Cambridge Univ. Press N.Y. 1911, p. 407.

15. Broad

Lastly, the distinguished Cambridge philosopher, C. D. Broad, at the end of his discussion of the empirical arguments which may be advanced in support of the idea of survival after death, points out that the hypothesis as to what specifically may survive, which he has himself offered, "has certain advantages for those who favor the theory of metempsychosis, as Dr. McTaggart does."(19) And, in a later work where at one point he discusses what McTaggart says on the subject, Broad states that, to himself, the theory of preexistence and plurality of lives seems to be one "which ought to be taken very seriously, both on philosophical grounds and as furnishing a reasonable motive for right action .... We shall behave all the better if we act on the assumption that we may survive; that actions which tend to strengthen and enrich our characters in this life will probably have a favorable influence on the dispositions with which we begin our next lives; and that actions which tend to disintegrate our characters in this life will probably cause us to enter on our next life "halt and maimed." If we suppose that our future lives will be of the same general nature as our present lives, this postulate, which is in itself intelligible and not unreasonable, gains enormously in concreteness and therefore in practical effect on our conduct.(20)

(19) The Mind and its Place in Nature. Harcourt Brace & Co. New York, 1929, p. 551.
(20) Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy. Cambridge, University Press 1938, p. 639

The preceding citations from authors who have expressed opinions favorable in various degrees to the idea of reincarnation have been limited to philosophers, and even so have not included all those who could be listed. But numerous poets also have viewed the doctrine sympathetically. Persons interested to know what these have had to say, or in citations from various other quarters of opinions commendatory of the doctrine of rebirth, will find quotations in several fairly accessible books, among which may be mentioned E. D. Walker's Reincarnation, A Study of Forgotten Truth, G. de Purucker's The Esoteric Tradition, and Paul Siwek's La Reincarnation des Esprits.(21)

(21) Respectively, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1888; Theosophical University Press, Point Loma, Calif., 1935, Vol. II, Chs. XIX, XX, pp. 620-47; Desclee de Brouwer, Rio de Janeiro, 1942, Introduction and Part I.

16. Various forms of the doctrine of reincarnation

Some of the statements which have been quoted in what precedes will have indicated that believers in reincarnation do not all conceive the doctrine in exactly the same manner. Many of them, for example, believe that a man may be reborn as an animal, and hence that some of the animals are animated by souls which have been and probably again will some time be lodged in human bodies. Others believe that once a soul has reached the human level, it will not thereafter be reborn as an animal. Again, differences of opinion exist as to the interval of time between incarnations. For example, L. A. Waddell, who accompanied the expedition of Sir Francis Younghusband to Tibet at the beginning of the present century, and who has written extensively on the religion of the Tibetan Lamas, mentions that when the Dalai Lama dies, the selection of his successor is based on the belief that his spirit is immediately reincarnated as a new born infant(22). Search is then made for a child born at that time, to whom certain additional tests are then applied.

(22) Lhasa and its Mysteries, Dutton and Co., N. Y. 1905, p. 28.

Other believers in reincarnation hold that a long interval normally elapses between two incarnations - centuries, or indeed sometimes a thousand years or more - and offer accounts of the manner in which they think the discarnate soul employs these lengthy periods.

Another interesting form of the belief in reincarnation is that held, according to Delafosse, by one of the West African tribes, the Mandingos. They do not think of reincarnation as universal. They believe that the spirit of a dead man, which they call his niama "can reside where it likes - in the corpse, in the hut, in a sacred object, or in the body of a living being whose niama it absorbs." The spirit of a man for whom the due rites have not been performed may reincarnate itself in a solitary animal, or in a human being, who goes mad."(23) This particular version of the idea of reincarnation is interesting as being virtually identical with the familiar ideas of "obsession" or "possession"; although, in these as traditionally conceived, what incarnates temporarily in the "possessed" person, is not, as in the Mandingo belief, a discarnate human spirit, but a devil. Some West African tribes more easterly than the Mandingos apparently do not conceive reincarnation in this manner, but in its ordinary sense, according to which the body the discarnate human spirit enters is that of a child about to be born, not an adult body with a spirit of its own that has to be displaced or is made insane by the invasion of another spirit. A conception of reincarnation similar to that of the Mandingos appears in some of the communications of automatists emanating purportedly from discarnate spirits. For example, in Ch. XV of a book entitled Thirty Years Among the Dead,(24) the author, Dr. C. A. Wickland, transcribes communications, uttered by his wife while entranced, from purported spirits who said that during life they had had some acquaintance with the teachings of modem Theosophy and [apparently misconceiving these] that they endeavored to reincarnate by invading the bodies of several of Dr. Wickland's patients. These, as in the Mandingos' belief, had gone mad, i.e., seemingly obsessed or possessed by some personality other than their own.

(23) Delafosse, Haut-Senegal-Niger, Ill, 165 quoted in Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Art. Transmigration.
(24) Spiritualist Press, London, no date.

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Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26

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